On December 17, 2020, the Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development, announced the approval of the first project to be funded under the Universal Broadband Fund (UBF). $1 million in funding was approved for Netago Internet’s project to bring high-speed internet access to households in Starland County and Stettler County in Alberta. This endeavour falls under the UBF’s Rapid Response Stream, a funding avenue that appropriates up to $5 million for short-term projects to be completed by November 15, 2021. Netago Internet aims to connect 7,179 underserved households in these two counties by the November 15 deadline.
Minister Maryam Monsef had this to say about her historic announcement “This project will improve broadband connectivity for 7,179 households in Eastern Central Alberta. It will create jobs, increase health and safety, and ensure a stronger economic recovery for Albertans. It is the first of many projects our government will support to ensure every Canadian has access to this essential service. It builds on our government's investments in rural Alberta, including 350 infrastructure projects and investments that will support connecting 39,000 households across the province to better Internet.”
Canadians in rural and remote areas generally do not have access to high-speed internet connections comparable to the high-speed access enjoyed by those in urban centers. In today’s interconnected world, internet access is no longer just a luxury; it is a necessity in many ways. High-speed internet generally refers to connections with 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speeds and 10 Mbps upload speeds. In 2017 about 97% of urban households had access to high-speed internet connections, compared to just 37% of rural households and only 24% of households in Indigenous communities. Altogether, high-speed internet connections were available to 84% of Canadian households. 84% sounds like a high number, but much of this figure is accounted for by the high population density of urban centers, leaving too many rural and remote communities underserved.
The download and upload speeds available in many rural and remote locations are often too slow to facilitate the effective use of cloud-based software, online learning resources, telehealth services, high-definition streaming video, or to support multiple users on the same internet connection. The UBF is part of High-Speed Access for All: Canada's Connectivity Strategy, which aims to bring high-speed internet access to 90% of Canadians in 2021, 95% in 2026, and 100% by 2030
The $1.75 billion UBF is designed to support broadband infrastructure projects that benefit rural and remote communities. Launched on November 9, 2020, the UBF will fund diverse high-speed internet initiatives across Canada, including:
· Up to $50 million for mobile internet projects that will primarily benefit Indigenous Canadians, including projects along highways and roads where internet connectivity is currently lacking.
· Up to $750 million for projects that will impact large communities.
· Up to $150 million as part of the Rapid Response Stream.
The UBF also includes a pathfinder service to assist applicants in building partnerships, identifying potential funding sources, and navigating the application process. This service is meant to ensure that the UBF can meet all applicants' needs and will be particularly helpful to smaller applicants such as municipalities and Indigenous groups.
Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grizzly Gazette